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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Tone of "Do Not Fear"

He said he just couldn't shake the sense of anxiety and fear, and its close cousin, depression.

I know the feeling, and though we share some personality qualities, he somehow lived a good 25 years longer than I did before he had to begin the daily wrestling with those deceptive and pervasive emotions. But even so, there's more than a little understanding between us. It seems he fought harder and longer to keep it from showing than I did. Putting up the mask. Choosing to walk away from conversations before they got to anything real. Choosing to serve others as a series of projects rather than cultivating any deep and meaningful, lasting relationships. And if the project is too hard, he promises to come back to it later, and then stacks his schedule full. Avoidance.

He kept his appearance above reproach. But inside, he's being eaten alive with anxiety. Depression. He knows something is not right.

Our conversation was not fruitful, and I keep returning to it in grief, though it's fully been two months, maybe more, since it occurred.

I know he believes. I know he is committed to his faith. I know he, at one time, understood grace with more than gnosis--with epignosis. But it's lost somewhere--covered over, callused over, suppressed? And he seems too tired now to keep grappling for it, to see it become real again. It has rendered even his encouragement of me, once so vibrant, full of blue-sky dreams and aspirations, to only admonishment to retract, avoid anything that is "fraught with difficulty." Take the easy way out by stepping aside if need be.

Once, didn't we believe that anything worthwhile would be "fraught with difficulty"? Didn't we believe there was no easy road? That it was "all uphill, all the way," but that the labor to press on toward what we knew was right, would vindicate in the end? Press on toward the goal! Because suffering is expected, and God is faithful!

I tried to explain to him how, in recent months, I've experienced the old teaching anew. What I believed when I first believed: that grace is so much more full and rich and complete and constant and OTHER that there is reason to rejoice and rest, to be freed from the sense of anxiety and depression we learned to put on over the years. God loves us, now, and sees us as we really will be--already. I told him about the gentle voice that says, "Do not fear." The one that comes close, like I do with my little ones when they are frightened of the thunder, or the strange black car parked in the street: "I'm here. You're safe. Don't be afraid."

But he said no, he couldn't accept that. Not exactly. He reminded me of an illustration shared many years ago. I remember it now too, and I remember at the time accepting it. God does come and puts his arm around us to say, "Don't be afraid." But at the same time, he is wagging a frustrated and scolding finger in our faces, showing his disapproval and commanding us to "Stop it this instant!"

And it changes things. Actually, it seems to change everything, and I feel the weight upon my neck again. My Father is not happy with me.

I've asked yet another learned man for additional input on this understanding of grace and favor, loving discipline and frustrated chastisement, and the depth and breadth of the reality of the imputation of righteousness now, in the already and the not yet and the almost. Because I know that to live free of fear, as we are called to do, God's grace and favor has to be somehow a constant, outside even of my own struggles to believe and obey. He encourages me to "fear not." He does not ask what is not possible of us. And I know that if his pleasure with me is based on my perfect performance, even in areas of my emotions, then I will constantly fall short, and the wagging finger will never relent, and without his favor and approval, I cannot be free of the fear he is admonishing me to release.

I need grace to be entirely on his terms, secured by him and through him, for me--even as I stumble along, not yet getting it all right. Is anything less really grace?

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